K Desktop Environment

A screenshot of KDE 3.5.7 showing the default desktop
Maintainer:The KDE Team
Available language(s):Multilingual (80 different languages.)
Use:Desktop environment
License:GNU General Public License and others
KDE (K Desktop Environment) (IPA: /ˌkeɪˌdiːˈiː/) is a free software project which aims to be a powerful system for an easy-to-use desktop environment. The goal of the project is to provide basic desktop functions and applications for daily needs as well as tools and documentation for developers to write stand-alone applications for the system. In this regard the KDE project serves as an umbrella project for many standalone applications and smaller projects that are based on KDE technology, such as KOffice, KDevelop, Amarok, K3b and many more.


KDE was founded in 1996 by Matthias Ettrich, who was then a student at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. At the time, he was troubled by certain aspects of the UNIX desktop. Among his qualms were that none of the applications looked, felt, or worked alike. He proposed the formation of not only a set of applications, but rather a desktop environment, in which users could expect things to look, feel, and work consistently. He also wanted to make this desktop easy to use; one of his complaints with desktop applications of the time was that his girlfriend could not use them. His initial Usenet post spurred a lot of interest, and the KDE project was born.[1] The name KDE was intended as a word play on the existing Common Desktop Environment, available for Unix systems. CDE was an X11-based user environment jointly developed by HP, IBM, and Sun, through the X/Open Company, with an interface and productivity tools based on the Motif graphical widget toolkit. It was supposed to be an intuitively easy-to-use desktop computer environment.[2] The K was originally suggested to stand for "", but it was quickly decided that the K should stand for nothing in particular.[3] Additionally, one of the tips in certain versions of KDE 3 incorrectly states that the K currently is just meant to be the letter before L in the Latin alphabet, the first letter in the word Linux (which is where KDE is usually run).[4]

Matthias chose to use the Qt toolkit for the KDE project. Other programmers quickly started developing KDE/Qt applications, and by early 1997, large and complex applications were being released. At the time, Qt did not use a free software license and members of the GNU project became concerned about the use of such a toolkit for building a free software desktop and applications. Notably, KDE was removed from Debian because the project interpreted the GPL as not allowing KDE to be linked to Qt. Two projects were started: "Harmony", to create a Free replacement for the Qt libraries, and the GNOME project to create a new desktop without Qt and built entirely on top of free software.

In November 1998, the Qt toolkit was licensed under the free/open source Q Public License (QPL). This same year the KDE Free Qt foundation[5] was created which guarantees that Qt would fall under a variant of the very liberal BSD license should Trolltech cease to exist or no free/open source version of Qt be released during 12 months. But debate continued about compatibility with the GNU General Public License (GPL). In September 2000, Trolltech made the Unix version of the Qt libraries available under the GPL, in addition to the QPL, which has eliminated the concerns of the Free Software Foundation. Starting with the release of Qt 4.0, it is available as free software for the Unix, Mac and Windows platforms, indicating that the next major version of KDE applications and libraries will have native support on these platforms.

Both KDE and GNOME now participate in freedesktop.org, an effort to standardize Unix desktop interoperability, although there is still some competition between them.[6]


Enlarge picture
Konqi, mascot of the KDE project
KDE project's mascot is a green dragon named Konqi. Konqi can be found in various applications, including when the user logs out and in the "About KDE" screen.

Organization of the KDE project

Like many free/open source software projects, KDE is primarily a volunteer effort, although various companies, such as Novell (in the form of SuSE), Trolltech, and Mandriva employ developers to work on the project. Since a large number of individuals contribute to KDE in various ways (e.g. code, translation, artwork), organization of such a project is complex. Most problems are discussed on a number of different mailing lists.

Important decisions, such as release dates and inclusion of new applications, are made on the kde-core-devel list by the so-called core developers. These are developers who have made significant contributions to KDE over a long period of time. Decisions are not made by a formal voting process, but by discussion on the mailing lists. In most cases this seems to work well, and major discussions (such as the question of whether the KDE 2 API should be broken in favour of KDE 3) are rare.

While developers and users are now located all over the world, the project retains a strong base in Germany. The web servers are located at the universities of Tübingen and Kaiserslautern, a German non-profit organization (KDE e.V.) owns the trademark on "KDE", and KDE conferences often take place in Germany.

Release cycle and version numbers

Enlarge picture
A screenshot of KDE 3.5 running the Kontact personal information manager and Konqueror file manager
As the project history below shows, the KDE team releases new versions on a frequent basis. It is rare that a release is delayed for more than one or two weeks. An exception was KDE 3.1, which was delayed for more than a month because of a number of security issues in the code base.

There are two main types of releases, major releases and minor releases.

Major releases

There have been 11 major releases so far: 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5. The current major release is 3.5, which arrived on November 29, 2005. The next major release will be KDE 4.0, which has been scheduled for release on December 11, 2007 (see the KDE 4 roadmap). KDE 4 will be based on Qt 4.x, encompassing some major changes to the desktop.

The KDE X.0 releases are special, as they are allowed to break both binary and source-compatibility with the predecessor, or to put it differently, all following releases (X.1, X.2, …) will guarantee binary (ABI) and source compatibility (API). This means, for instance, that software that was developed for KDE 3.0 will work on all (future) KDE 3 releases, in contrast to an application that was developed for KDE 2, which is not guaranteed to be able to make use of the KDE 3 libraries.

The changes between KDE 1 and KDE 2 series were large and many, while the API changes between KDE 2 and KDE 3 were comparatively minor, meaning that applications could be more easily ported to the new architecture. Up to now the KDE major version numbers follow the Qt release cycle.

Besides the special X.0 releases, a major release will allow new features. Minor releases in general don't allow new features although some releases in the 3.5.x line have had minor enhancements.

As soon as a major release is ready and announced, work on the next major release starts. A major release needs several months to be finished and many bugs that are fixed during this time are backported to the stable branch, meaning that these fixes are incorporated into the last stable release.

Minor releases

A minor KDE release has three version numbers, e.g. KDE 1.1.1, and a focus on fixing bugs, minor glitches and making small usability improvements, as opposed to adding new features. For minor releases, a shortened release schedule is used.


This article or section contains information about scheduled or expected .
The content may change as the software release approaches and more information becomes available.
Enlarge picture
Screenshot of Beta 1 showing the run dialogue, clock plasmoid and Dolphin file manager.
Main article: KDE 4

KDE 4 will be a major revision of KDE, based on the version 4 series of Qt. Its release date has been scheduled for December 11, 2007. On August 18, 2006, a minimal technical preview of KDE4, KDE 3.80.1 was released.[7]

Some of the planned features are:[8][9]
  • Faster and more memory efficient, due to the greater speed and efficiency of Qt 4 and increased efficiency in the KDE libraries themselves.
  • Reorganized and cleaned up core kdelibs API and rewritten human interface guidelines.
  • A new default icon theme and visual guidelines, developed by the Oxygen Project, which will make extensive use of SVG.
  • A completely redesigned desktop and panels collectively called Plasma which will integrate Kicker, KDesktop, and SuperKaramba and is intended to update the decades-old desktop metaphor which defines the modern computing experience.
  • 3D effects in the KWin window manager
  • Streamlined file management and web browsing interfaces in Konqueror.
  • A standard scripting system centered around ECMAScript (also known as JavaScript) or Kross which is a language-independent solution developed and used in KOffice. It now supports Python and Ruby, but more are to come.
  • A new multimedia interface (Phonon), making KDE independent of any one specific media framework.
  • An API for network and portable devices (Solid)
  • A new communication framework (Decibel)
  • A metadata and search framework, probably named Tenor. It will incorporate Strigi as a full-text file indexing service, and with .
  • A new default file manager (Dolphin)
  • Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X support by KDE libraries so that KDE applications will more easily be ported to these operating systems[10]
  • A new spell checking program called Sonnet with automatic language detection. It will replace kspell to mark misspellings in text input fields in KDE-based applications. Advantages over kspell are the automatic language detection and the ability to work even if several languages are mixed in one document.


KDE is built with Trolltech's Qt toolkit which runs on most Unix and Unix-like systems, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. All releases of KDE 3 are built upon Qt 3, which was only released under the GPL for Linux and Unix-like operating systems, including Mac OS X. For that reason, KDE 3 is only available on Windows through ports involving a X server.

KDE 4 will be based on Qt 4 which is also released under the GPL for Windows and Mac OS X. Therefore KDE 4 applications can run natively on these operating systems as well.

Base technologies used in KDE 3

  • aRts - soundserver
  • DCOP - system for communication between processes
  • KDELibs
  • KHTML - HTML engine
  • KIO - extensible network-transparent file access
  • Kiosk - allows disabling features within KDE to create a more controlled environment
  • KParts - lightweight in-process graphical component framework
  • KWin - window manager
  • XMLGUI - allows defining UI elements such as menus and toolbars via XML files


Due to the size of KDE, it is divided into several package categories to simplify installation. This is a reference scheme; packagers are free to use their own packages for KDE.
  • aRts - KDE sound server.
  • KDELibs - Primary libraries, containing most pieces of KDE architecture
  • Kdebase - The base desktop and applications. Requires kdelibs.
  • Kdeaccessibility - Accessibility software
  • Kdeaddons - Add-on software
  • Kdeadmin - Administrative tools, intended for administering UNIX machines
  • Kdeartwork - Additional artwork (widget style, screensavers, wallpapers, etc.)
  • Kdeedu - Educational software
  • Kdegames - Games
  • Kdegraphics - Tools for manipulating graphics
  • Kde-i18n - Internationalization for KDE
  • Kdemultimedia - Multimedia software
  • Kdenetwork - Network tools and software
  • Kdepim - Personal information management and E-mail software
  • Kdesdk - Developer tools
  • Kdetoys - Desktop toys and amusements
  • Kdeutils - Utilities
  • Kdewebdev - Web development
  • KOffice - Office suite
  • Kdebindings - Support for other programming languages
There is also a Subversion module, Extragear, which is used by applications which are part of the KDE project but don't follow the release cycle of the main codebase; K3b and Amarok are part of this module.

Major KDE applications

For a full list, see list of KDE applications. Applications for KDE include:


For more details on this topic, see Timeline of KDE development.

Date Release
14 October 1996Project announced by Matthias Ettrich[11]
12 July 1998KDE 1.0 released[12]
6 February 1999KDE 1.1 released[13]
3 May 1999KDE 1.1.1 released[14]
13 September 1999KDE 1.1.2 released[15] (KDE 1.2 was planned, but never released[16][17][18])
15 December 1999KDE 1.89, aka Krash (unstable developers' release)
23 October 2000KDE 2.0 released
26 February 2001KDE 2.1 released
15 August 2001KDE 2.2 released
3 April 2002KDE 3.0 released
28 January 2003KDE 3.1 released
3 February 2004KDE 3.2 released
19 August 2004KDE 3.3 released
16 March 2005KDE 3.4 released
29 November 2005KDE 3.5 released
31 January 2006KDE 3.5.1 released
28 March 2006KDE 3.5.2 released
31 May 2006KDE 3.5.3 released
02 August 2006KDE 3.5.4 released
11 October 2006KDE 3.5.5 released
24 January 2007KDE 3.5.6 released
22 May 2007KDE 3.5.7 released
16 October 2007KDE 3.5.8 released[19]
11 December 2007Expected release date for KDE 4[20]

Naming convention

Most KDE applications have a K in the name, mostly as an initial letter and capitalized. However, there are notable exceptions like kynaptic, whose K is not capitalized, Gwenview, which does not have a K in the name at all, and Amarok which formerly had its final k capitalized. The K in many KDE applications is obtained by spelling a word which originally begins with C or Q differently, for example Konsole (which, incidentally, is correct spelling in German) and Kuickshow. Also, some just prefix a commonly used word with a K, for instance KOffice.

Licensing issues

Qt, to which native graphical KDE applications link for their graphical widgets, is free software, dual-licensed under the GNU GPL and QPL licenses. TrollTech also sell licenses for developing proprietary software. When using the free versions, programs which link to Qt must be released as FOSS (under the GPL or another license permitted by the QPL, such as the BSD or LGPL for example). After the release of Qt under the GPL, the controversy over licensing with the Free Software Foundation ended.

Some developers of proprietary/closed source software argue that paying for a license, similar to the relatively expensive development tools of other systems, removes most of the financial incentive for writing proprietary/closed source, native graphical KDE applications. However, it is not necessary to use Qt or the KDE libraries to write software which integrates well with the KDE desktop. Software using any other toolkit, following the freedesktop.org standards or using KDE facilities such as KPrinter and KDialog can integrate nicely with the KDE desktop (both KPrinter and KDialog link to Qt, and are under the GPL), however the widgets will not have the exact behavior of Qt widgets. Additional integration efforts are being discussed in the Portland Free Desktop initiative,[21] and are planned for KDE 4.

Some other free/open source desktop platforms (such as GNOME, Xfce and EDE) use toolkits licensed under the LGPL. The LGPL permits proprietary/closed source applications to link to libraries licensed under the LGPL, with some restrictions: the Section 6 of the LGPL v2.1 prohibits linking to software with a license that restricts reverse-engineering and modification of the work for the customer's own use.[22] The proprietary Qt license which TrollTech sells does not carry these restrictions.


KDE aims to make easy-to-use programs without sacrificing features. KDE's Usability page states its goal as: "Working within the existing design goals of a system, usability efforts aim to make the implementations of these designs easier to use, faster to learn, more consistent and obvious, and generally more ergonomic for their target audience." [23] To improve the user interface, work has gone into reducing visual complexity for versions 3.2 to 3.5. The most promising effort is the close work with the OpenUsability Project. One of the major goals of KDE 4.0 is to identify further areas that are lacking from a usability perspective and address these concerns. In particular, new human interface guidelines are being developed for KDE 4.0.

KDE strives to make otherwise onerous or difficult tasks easier, such as adding printers (local or networked), setting up 802.11 Wireless security settings (such as WEP), and installing new fonts and window decorations. Third-party web sites LinuxPrinting, art4linux.org and KDE-Look support KDE through adding devices or customizing the environment's look and feel.

The KDE interface has been criticised for being too complex and including too many configurable options. However, a usability report evaluating a customized version of KDE 3.1 showed, as early as 2003, that Windows users quickly became familiar with KDE, enjoyed it and were able to accomplish the proposed task as quickly as with Windows XP.[24]


The KDE project and related events are frequently sponsored by individuals, universities, and businesses such as Dell and IBM.[25]

On 15 October 2006, it was announced that Mark Shuttleworth became the first patron of KDE, the highest level of sponsorship available.[26] On 2007-07-07, it was announced that Intel Corporation and Novell became patrons of KDE.[27]

See also

Notes and references

1. ^ (14 October 1996). "[news://53tkvv$b4j@newsserv.zdv.uni-tuebingen.de New Project: Kool Desktop Environment (KDE)]". [news://de.comp.os.linux.misc de.comp.os.linux.misc]. (Google Groups). Retrieved on 2006-12-29.
2. ^ COSE Update FYI. Retrieved on 2007-09-25.
3. ^ KDE Myths: Miscellaneous / KDE Means Kool Desktop Environment. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
4. ^ Bug#26414: incorrect tip KDE acronym. Retrieved on 2007-08-08.
5. ^ KDE Free Qt Foundation. Retrieved on 2007-01-26.
6. ^ A tale of two desktops
7. ^ K Desktop Environment — KDE 3.80.1 Info Page. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
8. ^ KDE Wiki - KDE 4 Goals. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
9. ^ LinuxDevCenter.com -- Previewing KDE 4. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
10. ^ KDE Wiki. .
11. ^ Matthias Ettrich original posting
12. ^ KDE press release for version 1.0
13. ^ KDE News Archive for February 1999 referring to the release of version 1.1
14. ^ KDE press release for version 1.1.1
15. ^ KDE press release for version 1.1.2
16. ^ Preparations for KDE 1.1.2
17. ^ Stephan Kulow on 1.1.2 vs. 1.2
18. ^ KDE announcements
19. ^ Release announcement for version 3.5.8
20. ^ [2]
21. ^ . Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
22. ^ GNU Lesser General Public License. Retrieved on 2007-01-26.
23. ^ KDE Usability Project - KDE Usability Project. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
24. ^ relevantive: Linux Usability Test Report - Executive summary. Retrieved on 2006-08-26.
25. ^ Sponsorship Thanks. Retrieved on 2006-10-16.
26. ^ Mark Shuttleworth Becomes the First Patron of KDE. KDE (15 October 2006). Retrieved on 2006-10-16.
27. ^ Intel and Novell Become Patrons of KDE. KDE (July 7 2007). Retrieved on 2007-07-08.

External links

Software development process
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See International Phonetic Alphabet for English for a more complete version and Pronunciation respelling for English for phonetic
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In graphical computing, a desktop environment (DE, sometimes desktop manager) offers a graphical user interface (GUI) to the computer. The name is derived from the desktop metaphor used by most of these interfaces, as opposed to the earlier, textual command line
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KOffice is an office suite for the K Desktop Environment (KDE). All its components have been released under free software/open source licenses. The latest version of KOffice is 1.6.3, which was released on June 7, 2007.
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Maintainer: KDevelop Team

OS: Cross-platform

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License: GNU General Public License
Website: [1]

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Maintainer: The Amarok Team

OS: Unix-like, Windows (currently in development for version 2)[1]

Use: Audio player
License: GNU General Public License
Website: amarok.kde.
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K3b (from KDE Burn Baby Burn)[1] is a CD and DVD authoring application for the KDE desktop for Unix-like computer operating systems. It provides a graphical user interface to perform most CD/DVD burning tasks like creating an Audio CD from a set of audio files or
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Matthias Ettrich (born June 14, 1972 in , southern Germany) is the computer scientist who founded the KDE project in 1996, when he proposed on Usenet a "consistent, nice looking free desktop-environment" [sic] [1] for UNIX using the Qt GUI toolkit.
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Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen (German: Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, sometimes called the "Eberhardina") is a public university located in the city of Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
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Unix (officially trademarked as UNIX®) is a computer operating system originally developed in 1969 by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs including Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Douglas McIlroy.
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Application software is a subclass of computer software that employs the capabilities of a computer directly and thoroughly to a task that the user wishes to perform. This should be contrasted with system software which is involved in integrating a computer's various capabilities,
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In graphical computing, a desktop environment (DE, sometimes desktop manager) offers a graphical user interface (GUI) to the computer. The name is derived from the desktop metaphor used by most of these interfaces, as opposed to the earlier, textual command line
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Common Desktop Environment (CDE) is a proprietary desktop environment for Unix, based on the Motif widget toolkit. It is also the standard desktop environment on HP's OpenVMS.
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X/Open Company, Ltd. was a consortium founded by several European UNIX systems manufacturers in 1984 to identify and promote open standards in the field of information technology.
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Motif refers to both a graphical user interface (GUI) specification and the widget toolkit for building applications that follow that specification under the X Window System on Unix and other POSIX-compliant systems.
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Qt is a cross-platform application development framework, widely used for the development of GUI programs and also used for developing non-GUI programs such as console tools and servers. Qt is most notably used in KDE, the web browser Opera, Google Earth, Skype, Qtopia and OPIE.
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Debian is a free operating system. Its primary form, Debian GNU/Linux, is a popular and influential Linux distribution.[1]

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The Harmony toolkit is a never-completed free software widget toolkit that aimed to be API compatible with the then-proprietary Qt widget toolkit. It also aimed to add functionality such as multi-threaded applications and pluggable themes.
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